“If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies.”
These past few years, I have noticed that I have had an increasingly hard time extending love and compassion across the political/ideological divide that has our country in gridlock. Essentially, I have not been talking to my enemies.
I found this disconcerting and was inspired by a group of folks at my church who called themselves “Bridging the Divide.” This group was also troubled by our inability to talk together as a nation and as neighbors. We were shocked at how few connections we even have with those “on the other side.”
The group went in search of a vehicle that could help us facilitate conversations across the divide in our own community. We stumbled across Better Angels, a “citizens’ organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.” Using Better Angels’ resources, a few members of the group completed the free moderator training, and our little group organized our first “Red/Blue Workshop.”
The three-hour workshop facilitates various exercises with the goal of helping participants learn about how the other side sees themselves and reflecting on commonalities between the two groups. As one workshop participant reflected, “I learned that our values are very much shared; it is our means that differ, but less than it often seems. Compromise is so important to a democracy.”
I don’t think members of the workshop necessarily walked away with warm fuzzy hearts, but I do think people were surprised at commonalities with the other side and were able to clear up true misconceptions. One participant commented, “Regular people agree to a great extent about our values and ideas.” Another said, “We have more in common than what we have different. It was reinforced to me that there is a great deal of commonality between the groups.”
Andrés Miguel Rondón says of his experience in Venezuela during the leadership of Hugo Chávez, “Don’t feed polarization, disarm it.” He points out that one way to do that is to “show concern, not contempt” for the other side.
In order to do this, we must first get to know the other side. One group member reflected after the red/blue workshop, “People are passionate, interesting, and willing to be involved. I am glad there are people like this in my community.” What a great example of disarming polarization.
Since the first workshop, we have also offered a skills workshop on how to listen and communicate in difficult conversations, and we hope to have subsequent red/blue workshops.
Jenna P. is a member of our Volunteer Advocacy Coordinators Network.